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Strategy A.2: Improve on-farm agricultural productivity, including soil and water quality


Farmers in the Delta face different on-farm problems that can affect the productivity of the land.  Channel sedimentation is a problem in parts of the Delta that can make irrigation pumping for some farmers more difficult or more costly or prevent it altogether.  It can also restrict channel capacity and create problems for marinas.  Pumping and drainage from agricultural lands can also create water quality problems for landowners and other downstream users. Other farmers may face problems from high salt levels.   in the soil. Drainage and water supply canals and crossings may not be in the optimal positions. This strategy would provide farmers with technical and financial assistance for on-farm water management activities such as those listed below.  This strategy is not intended to cover water quality impacts caused by operation of the SWP, CVP or the BDCP conveyance facility which are being discussed in other arenas.  See discussion below on assisting farmers in meeting their own water quality regulatory requirements. Possible measures would include:

  • Creating GIS-based topographic or other types of maps of their land that would help famers better understand and manage their land. For example, GIS-based topographic maps could be used to decide whether there are drainage problems and help determine appropriate solutions.
  • Regional weather networks, such as CIMIS, for irrigation scheduling. 
  • Providing portable pumps to improve water quality by removal of soil salts through drainage.
  • Facilitate changes in timing of pumping or discharging water to improve water quality and supply by
    • Providing larger pumps, deepening wells, or extending existing local agricultural diversions further into deeper water
    • Helping to build small holding ponds for drainage water so that it can be released at a time when water quality issues for downstream users are less likely to occur.
  • Consolidate intakes.
  • Selectively dredging small areas to improve flow conditions and operation of agricultural siphons to provide for better water quality or supply, for example in Middle River, Old River, and West Canal in the South Delta.
  • Improve agricultural and wetland management crossings.
  • Maintenance and improvement of drainage and water supply canals.

This strategy could also provide technical or financial assistance for the implementation of practices to protect soil from erosion and to keep soil and agricultural chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, from entering ground and surface water.  In 2003, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a new set of regulations pertaining to discharges of waste from irrigated agricultural lands into waters of the State. The purpose of the program is to prevent agricultural discharges from impairing the waters that receive these discharges. These regulations, which are referred to as the Irrigated Lands Conditional Waiver Program provided an individual irrigator with an option to join a coalition group or to participate directly in the program as an individual.  This Strategy differs from Strategy 23b which is focused on decreasing actual and perceived regulatory obstacles on agriculture-related businesses seeking to expand, enhance, and/or maintain their operations. Some of the practices envisioned could also be used in Strategy 12 (partner with others to maintain and enhance environmental quality on farmland) and include:

  • assistance in preparation of required plans such as farm evaluation plans, nitrogen management plans and sediment and erosion control plans 
  • installation and maintenance of riparian forest buffers
  • grassed waterways
  • windbreaks and hedgerows
  • cover crops and mulch
  • no-till, minimum till or direct seeding
  • inter-cropping
  • tailwater recovery ponds and sediment basins


  • As part of the Suisun Marsh Preservation Agreement, the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation currently fund a mitigation program in the Suisun Marsh that provides portable pumps to farmers, as needed, to drain high salinity water from agricultural land to increase productivity. This is used as mitigation during drought years for high salinity soil. For this program specifically, pumps provide removal of salty water through drainage. These pumps provide temporary drainage and can be moved around among farmers. This program is managed by the Suisun Marsh Resource Conservation District.
  • In the past, DWR has occasionally been able to find funding to voluntarily dredge an area in the delta which provided relief for a number of years.  If funding could be found for continued dredging, it would help the farmers in the area.  
  • Try new BMPs at no risk: The Nutrient BMP Challenge allows growers to try current BMP application rates for N, P or K without risk to income. Producers already working at BMP fertilizer application rates can experiment with below-BMP nutrient applications. Any loss of income due to lower yield will be compensated by the program. Limitation: currently limited to corn producers.
  • BMPs and training: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources used to offer a Farm Water Quality Planning Series to provide training for irrigated crop growers who are interested in water quality protection practices.
  • State bond funding to implement BMPs: Proposition 84 money has been used to help Central Valley farmers to implement agricultural water quality improvement projects. The funding, available through a bond initiative approved by California voters in 2006, was awarded to Coalition for Urban Rural Environmental Stewardship (CURES) by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • The Delta Conservancy has convened a Habitat Enhancement of Working Landscapes Coalition, to coordinate efforts to enhance the habitat value of working landscapes and benefit agriculture in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  Working with partners (Delta Protection Commission (DPC), the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the five Delta county Resources Conservation Districts (RCD), Point Blue Science Center (previously PRBO), The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, Ducks Unlimited, and the Delta agricultural community) the group has developed shared objectives and a suite of innovative management practices and project activities that focus on addressing agricultural needs and providing benefits to terrestrial species, waterfowl and other avian species, aquatic species and water quality.
  • The NRCS and RCDs provide technical and financial assistance for the practices named above.  For example, the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program makes annual payments for the environmental benefits produced by the practices, and scales payments to match the level of benefits. The DPC sponsors the Delta Working Landscapes Program, a group of projects which demonstrates how farmers can integrate habitat restoration into farming practices. The program established hedgerow grass plantings and other vegetative buffers along irrigation ditch banks to separate farm fields from waterway. These served to reduce runoff of sediment and pesticides, reduce herbicide use, enhance levee stability, and retard levee erosion, among other benefits. 
  • CDFA's Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) facilitates and coordinates research and demonstration projects by providing funding, developing and disseminating information, and serving as a clearinghouse for information on fertilizing materials. 


  • Some farmers may not want to participate because of their reluctance in dealing with State or federal agencies.
  • There may be impacts on wetlands and other natural resources habitats, water quality and hydrology that would need to be avoided or mitigated. 
  • Nutrients may be lost as a result of drainage.
  • Permits may be needed to install or operate facilities.
  • The measures may not be a permanent solution.
  • Some of the measures could increase subsidence and increase GHG emissions.
  • Determining what to fund, how to fund it and how to avoid other adverse impacts is a challenge.
  • Whether cost-sharing should be part of the plan.


The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and local resource conservation districts (RCDs) may be possible partners since these are techniques that can help farmers increase the productivity of their land.  Other partners might include reclamation and irrigation districts, UC Cooperative Extension, the Delta Conservancy and the Delta Protection Commission.

The San Joaquin County & Delta Water Quality Coalition (http://www.sjdeltawatershed.org/ ) and the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition (http://www.esjcoalition.org/home.asp) for water quality issues.

Partner with CDFA and other agricultural research organizations such as the University of California Cooperative Extension to create or extend programs such as re-establishing the Farm Water Quality Planning Series, or administering a program similar to the Nutrient BMP Challenge that includes more crop types than just corn.

The BMP Challenge is backed by a commercial service agreement provided by Agflex, an Iowa corporation.


If you would like to provide feedback on this strategy, please click the following link: Agricultural Stewardship Strategy Feedback Form

ALS Workgroup: ALS Framework and Strategies: Section II:  Strategy A2 Improve on-farm agricultural productivity: 102913